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TCU Magazine "Class Notes"

Institutional gift

Addison and Randolph Clark. Mary Couts Burnett. Pete Wright. TCU immortals, all. And now, Fort Worth businessman F. Howard Walsh '33.

By Nancy Bartosek

A time to dance. And a time to work. F. Howard Walsh '33 managed to find both. The couple, shown above in 1970, built a game room and dance hall on the back of their house to accommodate their legendary parties and square dances, but when the office beckoned, Howard worked long and hard, (he charted all his stocks by hand each day) then shared the fruits with others.

A person has to be born, and I was, at Waco, Texas, February 7, 1913, the handwritten letter begins, providing an inauspicious introduction to a life that wove itself deeply into the philanthropic fabric of Fort Worth and TCU.

But fitting for F. Howard Walsh '33, the oilman, rancher and arts patron who passed away May 28 and who made two requests for his funeral: Don't hold the memorial service on his golf day, and play We're Glad You're Dead You Rascal You and A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.

The family chose otherwise, but the message was clear.

"Howard and I never thought we were special or anything," said Mary D. Fleming Walsh, his wife of 61 years. "We liked to give rather than keep the money, so we have always given as much as we could."

Give they did, in the millions. And Fort Worth benefited in as many ways. Hospitals, churches, arts groups, schools (especially TCU) and community organizations all knew if there was a need, the Walshes had open hearts, and usually an open checkbook, too.

"There's no major organization in this town, or even minor, that he didn't help if they needed it," said Board of Trustees member Malcolm Louden '67, general manager for the Walsh Companies for almost 30 years. "And he never asked for anything in return."

The former TCU trustee's generosity to alma mater included academic scholarships, a naming gift to the Walsh Complex for weight training and rehabilitation and perpetual support of athletics. "Every time a new head football coach came to see Howard, he would write them a big check," Louden said.

In addition, the family gave one of the largest single gifts in the University's history -- $3.5 million for the Mary D. and F. Howard Walsh Center for Performing Arts. The day after former Chancellor William E. Tucker asked Walsh for support, Tucker received an early Christmas gift. Read the note from Walsh:

Dear Bill,
Rejoice. I bring you good tidings of great joy.
You got the dough.

Walsh's goodwill did not stop there. Walsh parties (which included regular square dances) are now legendary, known to include fantastic gifts and trappings. Christmas in Walsh's estimation was cause for lavish celebration each year. Friends made pilgrimages to town (at his expense) for the perennial The Littlest Wiseman (which they fund) and extravagant gifts (more than once, he gave mink coats to all his female employees).

Walsh entered the work world during the Depression, landing a job with the Armour Co. where he later was promoted to HEAD of the test department. . . for $18 per week, he wrote. This did not look like the road to riches to me.

So he turned to his "flair for math and figuring things out," Mary D. said, as an accountant for her father before striking out on his own. "Mostly he just worked hard." Indeed, that and shrewd intelligence enabled Walsh to build one of the nation's largest independent oil production companies and an extensive cattle ranching business. But he remained down to earth, often telling jokes on himself. Walsh wrote about an encounter at the Fort Worth Club with Mary D. and her parents where he ignored a warning about the horseradish.

I, green as a gourd about such things, took a full spoon of the liquid fire. Well, well, well, it hit me like a ton of rocks. My nose started running, my eyes looked like faucets left on by mistake. It started at my neck and rapidly spread to the top of my head -- turning beet-red and sweating profusely all over. I don't remember how it ended -- I did survive.

And those who benefited from his decision to make this part of the world a better place during his 85 years are glad he did.